The "Mistica" of Social Oriented and Collaborative Work with the Internet
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Keywords: methodology, Internet, ICT, social impact, society, virtual community, Latin America, Caribbean.
I - SUMMARYThe context, objectives and realizations of the MISTICA project (Methodology and Social Impact of the Information and Communication Technologies 1 in Latin America) are presented at a half-way stage. Through this paper, are expressed the results of reflections, fruit of a complex collective process, which go beyond this project and gives a vision of the regional environment, from the academic and civil society perspectives, as for the SOCIETY-ICT relationship. Particular attention is paid to the lessons learned during the management of this regional project. The aim is about reaching out the originality of a project for which the process is as important as the goal, and which follows constantly this principle, maintaining a difficult balance between methodological experiments and contents. Given the large number of ingredients necessary for the management of the Mistica project, the scope of this article is to describe the articulations of these ingredients rather than to offer a detailed description of each aspect of the project. The reader can obtain more information using the links to specific pages of the project web site (http://funredes.org/mistica) which are referenced in appropriate contexts.
II - HISTORY: from utopia to a defensive attitudeAt the end of the 80's, several groups of civil society were convinced by the potential of what was called at that time CMC (computer mediated communication). They invested time and energy to empower the users of these technologies to be able to transform them, through an appropriation process, in a key instrument for the development and the gap reduction between North and South. These groups were growing while the technology evolved, integrating the information2 concept and transforming itself, in the late 90's, in a new means, attracting from business to public administrations. The visions something utopian of the initial period had to be redefined accordingly to the new pattern where the same technology appears to be able to serve different interests, such as economic globalization or participative democracy.
This fast evolution, the transformation towards a society where information has the main role and real difficulties to measure the real impacts of this technology among users, leads to very optimist assumptions as for the benefit of using ICT in communities working for development. However, those assumptions has not been assessed in the field. Studies considering the impacts are rare as well as descriptive data of the technology impact on user groups. Moreover, such studies are not easy to realize because of the need to distinguish the levels of appropriation of technologies as regards to development .3
On the other hand, in many regions and in particular in Latin America and Caribbean, people participating in development actions had suffered from accelerated economical changes in the traditional cooperation patterns. To survive, they had to adopt more competitive attitudes that did not facilitate cooperative work within this sector.
If the initial promises of the CMC go on and amplify with the ICT, if opportunities are wider, they are also a challenge and a threat because of the growing and sometime out of control presence of the market forces among these technologies. On the other hand, during the same period, the movement of civil society organizations has been weakened as a consequence of geopolitical changes. However, clear signs of a paradigm change appears, probably as a consequence of the way the globalization process begins to affect people from North and South. A major global acceptance has been gained now of the active and organized role that must take civil society in order to avoid that key decisions for the humanity's future be the result of a negotiation less and less balanced between the governments and the most powerful business sectors.
Quantitative data on the social impact of these technologies are very rare and it is now urgent to think about mobilizing efforts that could at the same time strengthen the sector and allow the creation of mechanisms for a real knowledge of the impact of these technologies in the society. This will give the necessary input to set up strategies for a positive social impact.
Infrastructure problems for the ICT did not disappear and remain serious in remote region from urban centers. However, they have lost their initial urgency. With the accelerated evolution of technologies, with the evident risk that factors susceptible to transform the society be reduced by the growing power of the market, the focus should be reoriented towards methods and mechanisms able to cultivate and give a new birth to proactivity and integration of social active participants.
Enterprising and mobilizing projects are required to catalyze changes and to offer real opportunities of collaboration to this key group for development. The players must be consolidated, their path towards more collaborating patterns shall be facilitated. Their awareness of the importance to measure their action impacts should be increased and they have to be helped to be able to play their role within the restructuring of our societies.
Right now, the potential participants do not need financing for the purchase of equipment or access to the Internet; they rather need budgets to undertake collaborative actions, to think collectively, and to experiment with new applications and methodologies that can open innovative ways in the social use of information technologies for the Latin American civil society. Initiating this collective path requires resources sometimes difficult to find in international cooperation, often more interested in setting up equipment and technological transfer. The socially minded ICT players should fully take their role in Latin America and the Caribbean. Together, we must leave our defensive attitude and try to take back the initiative, through a new "mystic" of collaborative work. Thus, we will be able to reach the necessary threshold of power.
III - AIM: a delicate balance between the process and its endsThe MISTICA project claims to give an answer to this context. Naturally, its main purpose is at reinforcing social actors of the Latin America and Caribbean ICT, through a human network for research and appropriation of new technologies, supported by advanced communication and information means together with pilot field applications.
The conception of the project is sustained by the strong premise that in social movements, process is at least as important as the objective. That is why a great importance has been given to a complementary and cross-disciplinary objective: experimentation of an articulation methodology for virtual communities that integrates, in an appropriate way, information and communication resources. It must offer solutions to linguistic obstacles, allow the participation of people without ICT resources and organize distance participation to face to face meetings.
Both objectives, the social one and the methodological one, which effects are to determine the dimensions of the project, focus on the Internet and its applications. From that, the social one will lean on the Internet as a communication and information means and pilot applications will be defined on that same platform. The methodological one will use tools on the Internet to articulate the virtual community which makes the essence of the project.
The fair balance between the form objective (methodological) and the content objective (to strengthen a social group) is one of the critical parameters of the project. The search for the right trade-off is a very sensitive perception element from the participants point of view, as a result of the strongly experimental and research oriented characteristic of the methodological part, and of the very concrete expectations the players strengthening part is arising.
IV - CONTEXT: a balance to find between research and action.The project began in November 98 and will last for two years. The two sponsors of this project are the IDRC (International Development Research Center of the Canadian government - http://www.idrc.ca) and the FPH (Foundation Charles Léopold Mayer for the Progress of Humankind - http://sente.epfl.ch/fph/bienvenue%20eng.html ). The coordination is performed by FUNREDES (Networks and Development Foundation - http://funredes.org). This project lies within a series of reference actions of the main partners, who mutually contribute to and receive from the project.
The regional program PAN of the IDRC (http://www.idrc.ca/pan/prospectus.html) is motivated by the relationship between research and development, using the ICT. The IDRC has a history of field actions as for information policy and the MISTICA project lies within a series of coherent projects about this subject. This project becomes a means to reinforce field actors and a supplementary action to go deeper into the determination of impact diagnosis.
The new "thematic workshop" started by FPH in conjunction with this project named "Citizenship and ICT" as a part of the program "innovation and social mutations" (INO - http://sentenext1.epfl.ch/fph/French.wlproj/ino.html ). The FPH is interested in knowing the reflections of the intellectuals of the region as for the society-ICT relationship, through the MISTICA project.
The Alliance for a Responsible and United World (http://echo.org), a movement inspired by the FPH which intents to create conditions for positive radical changes in humanity's direction. It has experienced conferences where distance participation and automatic translation have been basic elements (PAD project). The MISTICA project should contribute to communication problems in the methodological way, in the framework of an alliance linking people with different technological resources all over the world.
The EMEC (http://funredes.org/funredes/emec.htm) and IS-NTIC4 (http://funredes.org/is-ntic) Funredes projects that both offer a conceptual scope for an effective and integrated management of electronic conferences with automatic translation, and the embryo of a clearinghouse for the social sector of the regional ICT.
On the other hand, related projects exist about social impact of ICT5 in the region which are in realization at the same time:
In concrete terms, the MISTICA project lies between social research and field actions. It aims at obtaining coherent results between each other. In this way, the different interests of institutions participating to it must match up. The project must find the appropriate trade-off and avoid the extremes of conducting an intellectual reflection disconnected from reality or acting as an activist group lacking academic level. This is one of the numerous challenges in the original way of this community project.
V - GENERAL OUTLINE OF THE PROJECT: you cannot do an omelet without breaking eggs.
Picture 1: General outline of the project
The outline integrates all the key concepts of the project. Two crossed egg-shaped areas represent the respective responsibilities of the project coordination and the virtual community (VC). The three pillars represent the objectives, components and products of the project. These three pillars are sitting on two bases, one for coordination and the other one for VC. The left hand coordination basis represents the founding principles of the project. The right hand VC basis represents the VC rules and subsequent protocols. On the top, an open expanding shape shows all the meta ingredients, the methodological components of the project.
5.1 ESSENCE OF THE PROJECT: MISTICA VC, central axis, at the same time the end and the means.This project focuses on creating and maintaining a virtual community of researchers and activists who are working in a social area from an ICT orientation or in a ICT area from a social orientation (see Table 1: social topics).
This duality is another key element of the project that must be preserved, to keep an open and plural vision. Mistica intentionally focused on giving publicity to and favoring unrecognized efforts and experiments existing in these fields.
The main objective of the project is to achieve a reflective VC capable of collaboration. However, the VC is at the same time the main tool to achieve this very objective. The coordination is the architect of the project, the designer of the project ingredients, and the group which facilitates a process to involve the CV participation towards the fixed goals, across the unpredictable path resulting of the collective decisions. Obviously, the most important result is the incremental design of the path resulting from the interaction between the initial structure set up by the coordination and the will collectively expressed by the VC.
All volunteer people who is ready to participate, in a more or less active way, in this think tank, to share experience and to intent to collaborate at distance constitute the VC. Today, more than 200 people are taking part in it. Each month, an average of two people leave it and ten people enter it. More than 500 contributions have been registered since the beginning in the VC memory (http://funredes.org/mistica/english/emec/production/index.html). Besides its contribution to the social impact of the ICT, this VC expresses itself about the project management, directly by mails to the coordination or indirectly using frequent evaluations. For further information, see http://www.funredes.org/mistica/english/evaluations/ .
5.1.1 STATISTICAL DATA ON THE MISTICA VC (1/2000)-Number of subscribed people: 204 (256 subscribed and 52 exited). Leavings are mainly "technical" (people giving up the project management group, address change or temporal leaving). There must be a little more than 20 people having left the VC on the first year (less than 10%), generally after a short time of presence.
-Sex distribution: 65% of male y 35% of female. This figure seems to be coherent with the global figure on the Internet.
-Personal pages in the directory: 30%. This is a brief review about: Who am I? Why am I interested in the topic? What expectation do I have?
-Distribution by countries of the region and other regions
- By sub-region:
At the moment of writing this article, it is evident that it has not been possible to attract enough people from Brazil neither from the English Caribbean... in spite of the effort of translation. One of the high-priority for the incoming period is to improve this situation.
For this type of CV, an average number between 1 and 2 contributions per day should be considered optimal. We believe that if this indicator goes down to 0.25, it must reflect a lack of interest and on the other hand, if it goes up to 4, it could be a nuisance for most participants. The number of subscribed people which has sent at least one contribution does not exceed 30%. It shows that participation level remains inferior to the 50% rate expected for this VC. However, this figure remains superior to the average statistics of similar lists.
- Age pyramid
This distribution is hopefully young for a community of specialists with more than 25% of less than 30-year-old people and more than 50% of less than 38-year-old people.
- Subscription per language
The total number is superior to the number of participants because subscriptions are accepted in several languages. Only 11 participants are not subscribed in Spanish! It is very disappointing since we are trying to develop multilinguism. Habits are firmly rooted. During the second period, we will invite more non Spanish-speaking people and better promote subscriptions in the maternal language of people.
- Objectives for the second period With the incentive of the clearinghouse and the natural growth of the VC, we contemplate to reach 300 active participants at the end of the project. More than 50 participants will use a different language from Spanish and near 40% will express themselves at least once, with an average number of contribution per day reaching the value of two.
5.2 COORDINATION OF THE PROJECT: a range of collegiate roles.
The group of people coordinating this project and intending to facilitate the collective project, is working in a collegial way and integrates people participating in the VC for specific actions. Given the wide range of elements necessary to constitute the Mistica project, coordination has various representations as well as various entities responsible for one aspect or the other:
- general coordination: the nucleus in charge of the strategic part of the project. It has organized the ingredients of the project and must incrementally redesign them during the process, under the VC influence. Beyond setting up the framework, its essential concern is to receive and interpret faithfully the messages from the VC as an input to the dynamic redesign.
- moderation: the group deciding if a contribution to the electronic conference complies with established rules and so can be accepted;
- EMEC team: people in charge of applying established rules for contributions (synthesis and translation);
- animation and management: the group in charge of sustaining discussions on electronic conferences and managing the discussion agenda;
- webmaster: is in charge of the web site of the project;
- PAD: the group in charge of participation at distance during face to face meetings. It is subdivided in two subgroups: "pad-in", processing contributions coming from the VC, and "pad-out", sending synthesis of the face to face discussions to the VC.
Obviously, the same person can participate in several of these groups, and some groupos can even, at a given time, be constituted of a single person. Four people constitute the general coordination; not less than 6 additional people participate in the different groups, including technical part of the Funredes administration server that is the base of the web. For specific tasks, around twelve people participated in several of the multiple areas required by the project (jury, specific study, facilitation…) . 7
5.3 OBJECTIVES OF THE PROJECT
This project has three fundamental objectives:
Participating agencies have their own derived objectives that the project intents to fit with its global objectives. This is the case of: reinforcement of research capacity (IDRC), systematization (FPH), communication (Alliance) and experimentation with ICT in the region (all), thanks to the creation of a human network equipped with advanced information and communication resources.
A series of secondary objectives are added to these three major objectives:
5.4. MISTICA INGREDIENTS: to assume the complexity and to see the essence emerge.The great number of articulated ingredients to respond to defined objectives is one particularity of the project. To simplify their description, we are going to classify those ingredients, according to their nature, in three categories: communication, information and action.
5.4.1 COMMUNICATION INGREDIENTS
It is about communication between the virtual community members and/or between these people and the coordination. A direct communication flow exists with the coordination. Debates are facilitated by the coordination on the MISTICA mailing list. Furthermore, a direct communication flow between members exists out of the list. The meeting organized in Samaná and the final meeting foreseen to conclude the project must be added to the list.
The great number of mails exchanged by the main coordinator in connection with this project from its beginning is a significant data about communication density. This figure exceeds 5000 messages and is divided as follows:
188.8.131.52. The MISTICA mailing list: some clear rules of the game that are accepted.
Maybe because of its long experience in this area and certainly because of the fear that a long meta-discussion on how to organize electronic discussions could threat the demanding project agenda, the coordination group initially stressed on quality and rule explanation to obtain a respectful, democratic and focused mailing list. The results were an almost lack of discussion on the rules and a list characterized by a strong discipline and cohesion. As for the appropriate use of the tool, the moderation offered a patient, pedagogic and systematic work, modeling the expression of the contributions to the best level of etiquette in the use of the lists. All of this was a preparation work for the later application of the EMEC methodology (see http://www.funredes.org/mistica/castellano/emec/documentacion/correos.html -Spanish- ). This latter brought several additional rules and a new management of this mailing list. For further information, see http://funredes.org/mistica/english/emec/method_emec/index.html .
184.108.40.206. The meeting of Samaná: empathy as a step previous to collaboration.
After the first weeks of virtual discussions about social impact of the ICT, a conclusion meeting has been organized with a selection of participants of the VC. This meeting aimed at finalizing the discussions realized on the mailing list and at documenting the results. This experimental meeting also aimed at establishing the conditions for a collaborative work between participants of the project and tried to integrate all the elements allowing to call it "a meeting of the new paradigm":
The very ambitious objective has put an extremely high threshold of preparation for this first experiment. Even if it cannot be considered as a complete success in every aspect, the main objective of creating mental conditions to collaborate with a high degree of identification to the VC was very successful. We can speak of a "Samaná spirit" that appeared among the present participants and that have been transferred to the remote participants. The great number of lessons learned from this original experimentation justify a second intent, which will take place as the final meeting of the project. For further information, see: http:/funredes.org/mistica/english/eventos/samana.
220.127.116.11. The final meeting: from collaboration to the continuation with Pad 2
The way to focus this meeting has not been defined yet. We should invite a part of the people having been invited in the Samaná meeting, people managing pilot applications and new participants of the VC. For sure, we will try to improve the PAD experiment based on learned lessons, as well as integration of the meeting facilitation with its agenda.
5.4.2 INFORMATION INGREDIENTS
18.104.22.168 The web site of the project: the project mirror
The web site is used for the presentation of the project, as a mirror of the described elements, as a work tool for the Mistica Virtual Community, as a memory for the project, and as a pedagogic support for each component or step of the project. This site is in constant evolution and hosted in the Funredes's server 12. It has a volume of 50 Megabyte and offers 500 pages. In the last version, a tool for database administration has been introduced to improve efficiency 13.
Four languages version are available: Spanish, French, English and Portuguese. All documents are not translated for the moment but we are on the way to do it. In terms of evaluation, the site was one of the elements with the highest variance coefficient which means that there is no consensus on its quality level. The average appreciation is fair but several people are complaining of the difficulty to follow the project through its web site. For such a complex project, it is possible that the weakness is the result of the lack of graphics and schemes helping to understand. The initiated effort for presenting the project out of the VC should be beneficial for the project members, while better schemes and graphic supports are developed.
See the map on the Mistica site in: http://funredes.org/mistica/english/map.html
22.214.171.124 Documents produced: research
The project chronology is characterized by the production of documents that concretize the reflection level of a given stage on the social impact of the ICT in the region.
Initial document of the FPH: http://funredes.org/mistica/english/cyberlibrary/thematic/eng_doc_ino.html
Document adapted to the region by the coordination:
Document reflecting the VC discussion: http://funredes.org/mistica/english/cyberlibrary/thematic/eng_doc_cv.html
Document reflecting the discussion of the Samaná meeting:
Final document: to be done.
These documents reflect the level of collective thinking on social impact of the ICT in Latin America and the Caribbean and remain a definitive result of collaborative research work.
The document on Samaná discussion is the only one that does not have the traditional format of a research document14 . This document was conceived like a novel and multimedia document. That gives it a very specific function of pedagogic document on the nature of the project. If the reader wants to join the VC and intimately participate to this project, the reading of the "DOC-SAM" is recommended to be informed in a playful and complete way on the dynamics of the project: http://funredes.org/mistica/english/ciberoteca/tematica/esp_doc_sam2_1.html
126.96.36.199 The MISTICA clearinghouse: all that you want to know about social impact of the Internet in Latin America and the Caribbean and you dare to ask.
This element (still to be completed) deserves a very specific place because it will gather organized information concerning social impact of the ICT in the region. We hope it will become a reference place at international level. The great ultimate challenge of the project and the second main product of the project with the VC! At this time, the design of the data base system has been realized and search for contents has begun.
5.4.3 ACTION INGREDIENTS
Three elements dedicated to the action exist: pilot applications, VC recommendations, without forgetting the most important, what is generated behind the curtain and from which neither the coordination nor the VC are necessarily informed.
188.8.131.52. Pilot applications: yanapanako15 and action!
A call for proposal was made to the VC to select projects that respond to specified criteria (thematic and collaborative process). Each proposal has a person responsible for it, a participant of the VC, and two partners at least one of those is a member of the VC. Very precise criteria have been established as for the format and the content of the proposals. The call for proposal has been managed within the VC (see http://funredes.org/mistica/english/aplicaciones_pilotos/llamado1.html). The selected proposals receive a financial aid (a total of 60,000 US$) from the project (which reaches 400,000 US$) and accompany the second year of the project. We have received a total of 9 applications, of which 7 were awarded a prize.
- "Mailing lists and web sites on Public Health in Latin America: how is it made?" (Brazil) The project targets the realization of an initial diagnostic on the use of the ICT within the scientific community in Public Health in Latin America. For further information, see: http://funredes.org/mistica/english/aplicaciones_pilotos/prop28.html
- "Where do we plug the plug?" (Venezuela) This project is a proposal of learning based on participative research-action on the access and use of the Internet from popular sectors of Valera, Trujillo state (Venezuela). A group of action and reflection on social impact of the ICT is going to be created and an evaluation methodology will be outlined and experienced for these purposes. For further information, see: http://funredes.org/mistica/english/aplicaciones_pilotos/prop27.html
- "A window for the Civic participation in public administration" (Nicaragua) An ICT system able to inform and train citizens about public services and channel their voices towards institutions responsible for control and regulation so to gain corresponding actions. For further information, see: http://funredes.org/mistica/english/aplicaciones_pilotos/prop22.html
- "Child rights.net" (Argentina) The project proposes the creation of a virtual environment that reinforces social movement regionally acting for defense and promotion of children rights. It will systematize and evaluate the impact of the use of proactive ICT methodology in the region, as a mean to defend children rights and to create democratic networks capable to bring added value to the policies of the government and social organizations. For further information, see: http://funredes.org/mistica/english/aplicaciones_pilotos/prop26.html
- "Virtual Community on research and learning about communication means and national development in the globalization context" (Mexico) The project focuses on indigenous peoples of Oaxaca, especially in a first step, in four municipalities: Sierra Sur, Cuenca del Papaloapan, Mixteca and Costa. It is about production of contents and intercommunication by, on and within these indigenous communities in benefit from collectivity. The philosophy is that indigenous people must not be considered as an object of study any more from researchers but that they become subject of their reality through ICT appropriation. For further information, see: http://funredes.org/mistica/english/aplicaciones_pilotos/prop29.html
- "Indigenous plot on the net" (Bolivia and Mexico) The project aims at analyzing and linking local, national, regional and international use mechanisms of ICT for indigenous people within three regions/countries: Bolivia/Peru, Amazonian region and Panama. The project will offer resources to go beyond restrictions (idiomatic, technological, organization and financing capacity) and to organize a reference site about indigenous. For further information, see: http://funredes.org/mistica/english/aplicaciones_pilotos/prop25.html
The second period of the project will see the development of those pilot applications and the VC will serve at the same time as a mirror of the progress and as a consultation center. Through this important part of the project, it is planned to establish a collaborating agenda between actors of the region and to introduce transparency and network culture into these concrete applications for a positive impact of ICT. Proposals about methodology to measure ICT impact had been expected but the VC rather decided to offer actions on the field. For further information, see: http://funredes.org/mistica/english/pilot_applications/
5.5. META-INGREDIENTS OF MISTICA:
5.5.1 EMEC methodology: how to respect the time of the VC members?The goal is to remove barriers preventing participation on electronic conferences (information overload, linguistic barrier, loss of focus, lack of training in the use of the means) and to reduce the time required to a subscribed person for understanding the substance of a contribution and decide if it is interesting or not to know details. In a way, a group (the team managing methodology) offers their time and knowledge to reduce the amount of information received by each subscribed person and to add value to the conference. It is the first experiment for this methodology16 and it is expected that the fruit of this experience is the construction of an efficient method to manage virtual communities in other environments as well.
In spite of a serious and long preparation work, the first three months of experimentation have been very difficult and brought interference to the whole project. Maybe because the threshold of synthesis quality was placed too high, the Emec process got stammering dangerously delaying contributions and leaving a growing queue of non-processed contributions. This situation may have had a negative effect in the effort of transforming the collective reflection toward action.
Once the project has taken its cruise speed, it will be the time to evaluate the experiment so to restructure the methodology according to the VC comments. In this moment, the process allows every contribution to be synthesized, every synthesis to be translated by humans to four languages, and the original contribution to be translated by program to the same four languages. All this information is linked to each other on the web. Thus, participants receive a contribution as a short and descriptive note in the language(s) of their choice and can click on it to know more about this contribution.
The process allows five messages per day to be processed by the team and the average time to wait between the emission of the contribution and the end of the process does not exceed one day on the average. The first analyses show that the average cost for a message processing is about 20 US$. It may be found expensive but we have to consider that it is translated to four languages. The trends for the evolution of this methodology will be to allow a selection flexibility for the participants, according to a predefined profile specifying if they want to receive synthesis or not. The option will be offered to receive the original message without passing by the web (using a type of "webmail"). For further information, see: http://funredes.org/mistica/english/emec/method_emec/index.html
5.5.2 PAD methodology: the whole is linked with the partsThe participation at distance (PAD) is a methodology to articulate a traditional meeting with an electronic conference and thus to allow that people of the VC who could not participate to this meeting to know about its progress, and in their way, bring their contribution. It is realized through organization in the calendar meeting of moments for retroaction to and from the VC. They are used for the emission of synthesis reports back and forth.
The meeting of Samaná allowed a first experimentation and we have integrated the numerous lessons learned in the drawing up of a better organization that must be experimented in the final meeting. The PAD experiment represents the lowest evaluation of all the elements and many improvements are required to convert this methodology in a working tool. However, the coordination is still convinced that bad acceptance of this methodology is the result of the weakness of the explicative effort and the fact it was not correctly integrated to the facilitation of the meeting. For further information, see: http://funredes.org/mistica/english/ciberoteca/metodologia/esp_pad_02.html
5.5.3 Evaluations: even evaluations are evaluated in Mistica!
The nature of experimental research as well as the importance given to the process justify the fact that a strong attention has been given to this element, offering to the VC an additional channel to influence the course of the project. For further information, see: http://funredes.org/mistica/english/evaluations/
184.108.40.206. Results of the intermediate evaluationAn intermediate evaluation has been realized in the middle of the project life to take the appropriate dispositions for the second period. Sixteen people answered the evaluation, which brought very interesting results, at a quantitative and qualitative level, in free answers, that you can consult in: http://funredes.org/mistica/castellano/evaluaciones/compiRes.html
The most important objectives for the participants were:
The best-achieved objectives were:
The most important ingredients were:
The best-achieved ingredients were:
The deep analysis of the evaluation shows a will to accelerate decentralization of the project leading and the regret for not having more participation. The perception of project management style is very positive19 , standing out creativity, transparency and ethics and recognizing democratic intention. However, centralized and vertical style perceptions appears, and what is more important, a style which does not organize necessary elements for a better participation. The most shared opinion is the perception of a participation crisis and although the coordination is not directly taken responsible for it, it is suggested to decentralize a lot to create better conditions and in some cases, to establish an original strategy development. This is the first message the coordination must digest and from which it must orientates its incremental design.
Then, although less shared, a certain difficulty to communicate the content of the project appears, in few words, a certain pedagogic deficiency20 . From the coordination point of view, the point is without any doubt valid, although its solution can need resources it does not have. The pedagogic problem becomes critical when a relatively low valuation of methodological elements is verified. These methodological elements represents a remarkable proportion of the efforts applied to the project and in every case, are an essential part of its philosophy. From the coordination point of view, there are misunderstandings that deserve a lot of attention to be such a central element.
It is not a coincidence that the coordination group, in these moments, is dedicating efforts to make presentation and publication material for the project. The group must understand that explanation effort is not only necessary out of the VC. The inherent complexity of the project is an obstacle but cannot be used to justify the difficulty to explain the project to the participants.
The coordination has what it remains from the project to achieve sharing better its point of view on the valuable character of the methodological experimentation conducted, and not well evaluated (especially PAD). This point will be very important in the final evaluation.
It is worth highlighting and give tributes to the quality of the answer in free formats for this evaluation. These answers represent a decisive support for the writing of oral and written presentation supports of the project, reporting, in a very enthusiastic way, the project impact in the work of the VC members. See http://funredes.org/mistica/castellano/evaluaciones/compiRes.html
Finally, we can perceive a certain disapointment about the way the debates are currently leaded. It should not be surprising because, as we explained it, this point suffered, in the last months, a series of factors which left it blocked. Several suggestions made in this evaluation are contributing to the new pattern required for this part of the project. For further information, see: http://funredes.org/mistica/english/evaluation/
5.5.4. The gender component: beyond the @…In modern world, information and the way it is socialized is the main exchange product. It is generating wealth and power. From that, ICT represent essential elements in the restructuring of power relations. As a consequence, woman participation in the development and appropriation of this technology is essential for their insertion in equal conditions.
Gender definition establishes a narrow link with culture. Thus, it is necessary to articulate culture and gender perspective in all defensible proposals of human development, since it is about producing permanent changes and transformations, inserting new values and assimilated in the deepest of each human being, disclaimers of the even predominant patriarchal structures.
With these relations, multiple possibilities to contribute to the woman development exist with this project. For that, the following basic principles have been established:
From these principles, we have integrated to the work team, from the beginning; a person specialized in gender, culture and development, as to assure that gender perspective is present all along the project.
5.5.5. Treatment of languages in MISTICA: chapeau my friend!
Maintaining a project in four languages on a web site as well as each contribution on the mailing list is not very easy. This originality of the MISTICA project is being carried out in a continent where the number of languages is not very important and can prefigure methodologies very useful for sub-regions like the Caribbean or for the African continent.
However, it is important to notice that especially dominant languages benefit from the experiment and sometimes it would be appropriate to try to evaluate the possibilities to repeat this type of experience with indigenous languages . 21
VI - Stages of the MISTICA process
To succeed managing this complexity of objectives and components, a progressive calendar in the project managing has been established, to avoid offending all the challenges at the same time and in this way to maximize the possibilities of success.
An "integrated framework" has been established and put on the following web site, as a pedagogic support: http://funredes.org/mistica/english/ciberoteca/metodologia/esp_esq_01.html
The successive stages of the MISTICA project have been:
- The constitution of the work team. For further information, see: http://funredes.org/mistica/english/credits.html
VII - MISTICA STYLE: TRANSPARENCY, RESPONSIBILITY AND COLLABORATION
The managing style of this project turned to be the strongest evaluated element among the group of people participating to it. It thus deserves more attention.
Ethical considerations of the project are closely linked to relationship between participants and communication resources associated to create the articulation framework, at an individual and institutional level. They are formalized from behavior criteria established for participation. These criteria are trying to establish a style of collective work, based in collaboration, solidarity, diversity respect and gender equity. Ethic, responsibility and compromise are fundamental principles. General organization of the project has been defined from the following behavior criteria for integration, participation and collective work.
Participation and active transparency:
Animation and proactivity:
Action plan, horizon, common platform:
Global criteria for selection of people in meetings
VIII - RESULTS OBTAINED UNTIL NOW
The most important result, although intangible, is the constitution of a human network, glued by several common principles, willing to think in a collective way, showing growing dispositions for collaboration and trying to organize to find some action leverage.
To apprehend well the impact of the project in this community of people, it would be necessary to develop a methodology for collecting direct information, since evaluations through the Internet do not allow to know essential data. As says an active participant of the experiment, from the University of the Ands, in Venezuela, in her evaluation: "the project should analyze itself…" Maybe it will be a next phase in the follow-up of this project.
It is still too early to qualify pilot applications as products or results of the project. The clearinghouse should also become an essential product of this project but we will know it later on.
Finally, beyond the constituted human network, compilation and exposition of all its information products, the only project result really completed in the middle of its way is the collective reflection on social impact of the ICT in the region.
8.1 PRODUCTS OF THE GROUP AS A THINK TANK
What did concretely say the group on the thematic of social impact of the ICT in the context of globalization?
The use of the word "impact" to speak about relationships between society and ICT has been quite controversial in the VC. Some people argue the "mechanical" character of the word, they see a causal relationship where the system vision should prevail, and then they prefer the expression " ICT-Society relationship" where retroaction among these two terms is more evident. The matrix structure given to the thematic between main axes and traverse axes has been less debated.
Table 1: Social thematic
This classification was very practical when discussing the issues. However, "transversal axes" can suffer from not being "main axes", and culture and native language23 can feel sometimes prisoner of a very western intent (and then not neutral) to want to classify it before to debate it. The summary of this classification, which does not appear in the table but acted as a magnetic field polarizing discussions, has been the topic of "globalization".
The topics of the matrix table have been widely debated in the VC and then in the face to face meeting of Samaná.
We will see if, now it is time to suggest solutions and action lines, the consensus gets lost…
After the meeting of Samaná, on the other hand, a final document, very original and easy to read, was written. The principle of the process and the goal are outlined (http://funredes.org/mistica/english/ciberoteca/tematica/esp_doc_sam2_1.html). Unlike this article, which aims to give an overview of the big lines of a whole project, this document represents the description of the first months of the project written as a novel with an imaginary character who would have participated in the meeting of Samaná and who describe its experience to another imaginary character.
IX - ASSETSThe participative and experimental characteristic of this project process is appropriated for social impact area on the Internet where it does not exist nowadays proved methodological tools. Another strength of MISTICA is its effort for integrating various languages and its concern for the aspects of cultural and gender diversity. Another asset, not so evident as it may seems, is a firm and permanent coherence of the work developed with the net culture, information culture and a mature use of the Internet.
Some people could reproach to the Mistica project not to reach basic communities because it aims at professionals. This way to deal with the problem can favor the research part to the detriment of the active part. However, it offers the advantages of demultiplying impact, and intellectual honesty should force to recognize that the conditions are not mature to democratize this process.
Mistica intents to show in real life the benefits from collaboration via the Internet, while preserving in a systematic and totally transparent way all the elements of experience, offering then a valuable material to the specialists of the VC or from out of the VC.
X - DIFFICULTIES AND CONSTRAINTS
The first period has been characterized by a permanent difficulty to get the project idea across to the participants. A permanent and redundant effort to introduce each element had to be performed. Indeed, the pedagogical needs of such a complex project are very high and may have been above the coordination capacity. This article and the graphic presentation associated to it (http://funredes.org/mistica/english/ciberoteca/metodologia/esp_esq_01.html) represent an effort to improve the situation during the second period.
The topic of the insufficient participation of the members of the VC has been one of the more discussed points within the coordination, during the Samaná meeting and in the last evaluation. On one hand, experience shows that we cannot underestimate the impact of an electronic discussion on people who do not contribute. Sometimes, the non-visible activity generated by a list can be a surprise. On the other hand, the project goal was to promote a strong proactivity among members, so an active participant figure of 30% cannot be considered satisfactory. We are considering that the limitation of MISTICA was to have not elaborate a methodology for distance facilitation. We think that it would be an enlightening experience to be able, in the future, to integrate to the team a person specialized in meeting facilitation and together, to intent to conceive new methodologies, supported by the web, for virtual community facilitation, which can be capable to generate more proactivity in the Internet.
If the project have achieved its objectives, then a dense collaboration activity must exist between the members of the VC, not necessarily at public light. The limited number of answers to the evaluations (between 10% and 15%) does not allow to collect this type of information. In short, determination of what is behind the curtain is a must to evaluate the success of the project. As a solution, a study based on direct interviews should be carried out with a large number of VC members.
Finally, a project which give priority to the process compare to objectives and is ready to redefine its components on the way brings about serious management difficulties and in particular, the coordinator must establish permanent trade-off between the global articulation of the project and the quality of each of its element. The experience of the first period showed that, the will to keep improving the quality of the web site or a too high quality threshold for the EMEC methodology, could have be a serious threat for the global harmony of the project…
XI -LESSONS LEARNEDWhat are the lessons of this first period?
In the first place, the enthusiasm shown by active members, the group fidelity as well as direct comments demonstrated that transparent processes are able to involve and motivate social groups to participate to new paradigms for virtual and face to face meetings, or for collective collaboration.
The development of a project limited in the time and characterized by a strong interaction among members is, without any doubt, a terrible challenge in terms of project management. However, it generates much more material to learn than traditional-planned activities. Complexity of social processes must be recognized and experimentation must be accepted to create flexible and error-tolerant models.
The last evaluation teaches that transparency, a volunteer transparency we can qualify of "active transparency", is a necessary condition to convince participants with processes in which they are involved. Unfortunately, it is not a sufficient condition! Besides moderation, beyond the animation of virtual community and the efficient conduction of the debates, there is a lack of new methodologies to motivate participation at distance. However, we have to be modest and to accept that while population is learning the use of these tools, participation will always be inferior to what we wish.
Decentralization of a project management could be a key element to improve participation levels… but it is not compatible with traditional schemes of project management where the responsibility lies entirely on the shoulders of the executing agency.
The relationship existing between the basic principles, decided by the coordination and accepted by the VC, and some objectives pushed in priority by the VC is sometimes difficult to explain to the VC. Furthermore, the very coordination is sometimes lost between its role of facilitating the process and its belonging to the VC, and then its desire to participate.
Whatever the situation is, we can perceive a clear claim, maybe a need, to create innovative environments of this type. The VC is very critical, sometimes impatient, but its aspiration is to benefit from the best products of this experience trying to direct it towards its topics of interest. The coordination must absolutely shows in the facts (not only in speech), that it accepts critics and integrates the VC requirements in the incremental design of the project. This is the price for the coordination credibility and the identification of the VC with the project, the key of its success.
XII - CONCLUSIONS?In the half of the way, the MISTICA project has a many points to its credit, recognized by its members:
The coming period has a series of new challenges:
What can we conclude from this diagnosis of the project state, in the half of its way?
When the process is the focus, instead of the result, it is evident that conclusions always remain very open. It would be something coherent that the specialists of the society-ICT relationship be the first group in proposing new social structure, characteristic of the new paradigm of information society. In this process of construction, the South in general and Latin America and the Caribbean in particular, do not have to wait for models from the North to adapt them! The MISTICA model claims to be a collective framework, representative of particularities and cultures of the Latin America and Caribbean region and so, it is more valid than any other model developed in another part of the world. Of course, it can and must get improved in the knowledge of other models coming from other places and reciprocally, it can contribute to the creation of new social models that can integrate the ICT as a positive element for a more responsible and just society. However, as all effort of social construction, it is an open road, without any conclusion and nobody knows clearly where it stops…
If we do not build it here, others will come and take us through their own roads.
If we do not build it together, some people will impose us their roads.
The correct way is to collaborate and to determine together our own way as a community, a country, a sub-region or a region…
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